During a Pennsylvania public hearing on COVID-19 testing challenges, a state senior living and care advocacy organization called for prioritizing long-term care for testing resources.

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, testified during a hearing of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Democratic Policy Committee highlighting continued COVID-19 testing challenges for the state’s 2,000 long-term care providers, including personal care homes, assisted living communities and nursing homes. 

“For months, we have advocated for recurring, universal testing and the critical resources necessary to expand and prioritize this testing for Pennsylvania’s long-term care communities,” Shamberg said. “Simply put, even with investments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Health and Human Services Provider Relief fund, widespread testing has become an unsustainable cost, especially for an industry that has been underfunded by the state’s Medicaid program for the better part of the last decade.”

Given increased demand and limited capacity at labs in the state, turnaround times for testing results have gone from two days to up to 12 days, Shamberg said. He added that the state’s almost 1,200 personal care homes and assisted living communities are working to meet their own Aug. 31 universal testing mandate sent by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for baseline testing of all resident and staff members of personal care homes, assisted living residences and intermediate care facilities.

The universal, baseline test for every resident and staff member in the state’s long-term care facilities, he said, comes with a $34 million price tag. Although Medicare and Medicaid cover most of these costs for residents, providers are absorbing the remaining costs for staff members because private insurance companies refuse to cover a test they deem “medically unnecessary.” 

Shamberg pointed out that multiple states — including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Rhode Island and West Virginia — have funded testing in long-term care. Almost 70% of all COVID-19-related deaths in the state have occurred in long-term care facilities, and more than 800 facilities statewide reported at least one positive case. 

Just over a week ago, PHCA partnered with LeadingAge PA and PMDA, the Pennsylvania Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, to send a joint letter to Gov. Tom Wolf urging the administration to direct additional CARES Act funding to long-term care providers to pay for testing.

“As the number of positive cases increase across Pennsylvania, we remain concerned these outbreaks may lead to a dramatic resurgence of cases in our nursing homes, assisted living communities and personal care homes as well,” Shamberg said. “It is more critical than ever to bring long-term care providers to the table to collaborate and work together to overcome these challenges. We must make long-term care the priority. We must ensure providers have access to every resource necessary. And that must begin with testing.”

The hearing also featured testimony from Anne Henry, senior vice president and chief government affairs officer for LeadingAge PA.